Defence of his acceptance of office

1835-02-24 - Robert Peel


I shall in the first place, refer to the circumstances under which the present Government was constituted. I shall defend the course which I thought it my duty to advise the King to pursue at the period of its formation and give accurate delineations of the measures which it is the intention of his Majesty's Government to introduce; those explanations the House has a right to require, and I should shrink from that duty which is imposed upon me if I did not avow a willing disposition to afford them. I stand here as the Minister of the Crown - placed in this situation by no act of my own - in consequence of no dexterous combination with those to whose principles I have been uniformly opposed, and which whom I might frequently have made, had I been so inclined, a temporary alliance for the purpose of embarrassing the former Government. I stand here in fulfilment of a public duty, shrinking from no responsibility, with no arrogant pretensions of defying or disregarding the opinions of the majority of this House, yet still resolved to persevere to the last, so far as is consistent with the honour of a public man, in maintaining the prerogative of the Crown, and in fulfilling those duties which I owe to my King and to my country.

In vindication of the course which I have pursued, it is necessary that I should refer to the circumstances which preceded the dissolution of the last Government. I have been asked whether I would impose on the King in his personal capacity, the responsibility of the dismissal of that Government? In answer to this question, I will at once declare, that I claim all the responsibility which properly belongs to me as a public man; I am responsible for the assumption of the duty which I have undertaken, and, if you please, I am, by my acceptance of office, responsible for the removal of the late Government. God forbid that I should endeavour to transfer any responsibility which ought properly to devolve upon me to that high and sacred authority which the constitution of this country recognises as incapable of error, and every act of which it imputes to the advice of responsible counsellors. But whilst I disclaim all intention of shrinking from that responsibility, which one situated as I am, must necessarily incur; I must at the same time unhesitatingly assert, what is perfectly consistent with the truth, and what is due to respect for my own character, - namely, that I was not, and under no circumstances would I have been party to any secret counselling or instigating the removal of any Government. But although I have not taken any part in procuring the dismissal of the late Government, although I could not from circumstances which are notorious to the world, hold communication with any of those with whom I have now the honour to act, much less with the highest authority in the State, as to the propriety or policy of that dismissal, still I do conceive that by the assumption of office, the responsibility of the change which has taken place is transferred from the Crown to its advisers; and I am ready - be the majority against me what it may - to take all the responsibility which constitutionally belongs to me and to submit to any consequences to which the assumption of that responsibility may expose me...

I now come to the subject of the dissolution of the late Parliament, I have been asked whether I take upon myself the responsibility of the proceeding, and without a moment's hesitation I answer that I do take upon myself the responsibility of the dissolution. The moment I returned to this country to undertake the arduous duties now imposed upon me, I did determine that I would leave no constitutional effort untried to enable me satisfactorily to discharge the trust reposed in me. I did fear that if I had met the late Parliament, I should have been obstructed in my course, and obstructed in a manner, and at a season, which might have precluded an appeal to the people. But it is unnecessary for me to assign reasons for this opinion. Was it not the constant boast that the late Parliament had unbounded confidence in the late Government? And why should those who declare they are ready to condemn me without a hearing, be surprised at my appeal to the judgment of another, and a higher, and a fairer tribunal - the public sense of the people? Notwithstanding the specious reasons which have been usually assigned for the dissolution I believe it will be found, that whenever there has occurred an extensive change of Government, a dissolution of Parliament has followed. In the year 1784, a change took place in the Government, Mr. Pitt was appointed to the office of Prime Minister, and in the same year a dissolution took place. Again, in 1806, when the Administration of Lords Grey and Grenville was formed, the Parliament, which had only sat four years, was shortly after the assumption of power by those Noblemen dissolved. It was on that occasion urged, that a negotiation with France having failed, it became necessary to refer to the sense of the country, but I never will admit that the failure of the negotiation with france could constitute any sufficient grounds for the dissolution of a Parliament which there was not the slightest reason to believe was adverse to the continuance of the war, or dissatisfied with the conduct of the negotiation. In the year 1807, another change took place in the Government by the accession of Mr. Perceval to power, and then again a dissolution immediately took place. In the year 1830, Earl Grey was called into office as Prime Minister, and shortly after the vote in the committee on the Reform Bill, the Parliament which had been elected in 1830, was dissolved in 1831. Hence it appears that in the case of the four last extensive changes in the Government, those changes have been followed by a dissolution of the then existing Parliament. The present, however, is I believe to be the first occasion upon which the House of Commons has ever proceeded to record its dissatisfaction at the exercise of the prerogative of dissolution.